"How many languages do you speak, boy?" J asked one day over his shoulder, absent-minded.
The boy wasn't sure why that question had even been asked. J already knew. "English, Japanese and Russian fluently, some Cantonese..." He frowned, thinking; what other languages... "Notions of spoken French, Spanish, Arabic..."
Doctor J kept tinkering with the microscope for a minute. The boy waited.
"Dragons learn language through the shell," the man said eventually. "It'll be to our advantage that it know as many as possible. The techs have English and Japanese covered; you can start with Russian."
The boy hesitated. "Should I... give it lessons?" He had never refused an order so far -- half because J never gave a task which he knew the boy physically could not complete. But he had no experience in formal education to draw on.
"No, no. Not lessons." J looked at him over his shoulder, smiled a smile the boy could not read. "Just talk to it. That'll do."
Later, when he stood in the brooding room, before the patterned eggshell, the boy thought there was nothing 'just' about any of it.
It was stuffy in the small room, the air heavy and damp. The lights were red, so that even though it was daytime in the rest of the ship, in there it felt like the middle of the night. He closed the door behind him before all the heat could get out and leaned his back against it.
The egg was waist-high, striated night blue and gold. It seemed... egg-shaped. There wasn't much else to be observed, and it wasn't like this was the first time he saw it, in any case. It hadn't changed since.
He had two hours of liberty a day, between end of lessons and sleep, and he'd decided today he could spend one of them in there instead of his bedroom, there would be little difference; only now that he was here he didn't have a clue where to start.
"... Hello," he said, and didn't feel any less awkward now that he had started. "Doctor J asked me to speak to you. He wants you to learn Russian."
He stood there in silence for another minute or three, his sweaty back sticking to warm metal.
"Russian is spoken in Russia, and a lot of countries that used to be part of it, several centuries ago. It's the largest country in the world, from Eastern Europe across all of North Asia. It spans nine time zones. ...Some areas tend to be extremely cold, and not densely inhabited."
He freed a hand to tug on his shirt, which was sticking to him, tapped the toes of his shoe against the floor thoughtfully.
"... I've never been."
The blue of the shell looked black like old tacky blood under the lamps, the gold specks orange like fire.
He spent the rest of the hour going through numbers and conjugating whatever verbs he could think of.
The day after that he borrowed a book from one of the weapon teams and read out loud. It was about socioeconomics. He finished it in three sessions, and then frowned, as he sat before the egg in the small, stuffy room.
"It wasn't very interesting, was it. It won't make you want to come out of the shell."
They tried novels next, a Regency romance full of people whose motives baffled him and a couple of murder mysteries. An autobiography. They reached the end of the available Russian texts after that.
"They're making your armament," he said. "I don't suppose gun specs would speak to you much without seeing the schematics. It's... it seems like it'll work well."
He rubbed his heel against the floor, started worrying at his laces. Might as well take his shoes off. He sweated so much otherwise. The door was locked anyway, and it was the most secure area in the whole base. He wouldn't need to run anywhere in a hurry.
"Sometimes in my head I call myself Odin Jr."
He wrapped his fingers in shoelaces, tugging back and forth.
"It's one of my oldest codenames. It's obsolete, though. Long out of date."
Pause. Breathe. The door was thick. Soundproof. The only sensors were on the egg, heartbeat monitors, pressure pads.
"I haven't been given a new one yet."
The heat and red-tinged darkness, the size of the room, gave the false impression of being... inside a sound-dampening field. Inside a... inside a shell. He wasn't sure. He wrapped his arms around his knees.
"Maybe J forgot," he said against his knees, and wasn't sure the egg could even hear him if he spoke so quietly.
He spent the rest of the hour in silence.
"Hello. Did you know, you're part Celestial. I heard it's the rarest Chinese breed. J said it meant you would be smart, at the very least. Otherwise you're mostly European. One of the names sounds French.
"I'm Japanese-European. Maybe Russian. No idea."
"Hello. Today I saw the projections for your adult appearance, based on your genome. You're... nice. To look at. Aerodynamic."
"Hello. There was another incident on L1-G15766. They brought up the death of Representative Yuy again. One of the techs told me to tell you to hurry up. He annoyed me. If he doesn't like it he can do something on his own. Don't hurry up for him. It'll be dangerous enough without going before we're ready. Just... take the time you need."
"Hello. My training is going well. I broke my speed record on the obstacle course. We're going to remodel it.
"Your shell is getting harder, isn't it.
"I still don't know what to name you."
The hatching happened off-schedule, in the morning, interrupting his training. He came at the summons to find the egg had been moved out of the brooding room, into a wider space. The hardened shell looked weird in white light. Strange, unknown.
Everyone was crowding around, watching. It was necessary, though. In case the hatchling rejected him as its rider, decided on someone else.
He drew his shoulders back, broke past the ring of onlookers and pushed his fingers in the cracks, widened them, dropped bits of shell on the ground. He could feel something warm and alive nudging at his fingers, viscous with amniotic fluid.
The muzzle that pushed out was red and fit into his palm. It disappeared back in the shell, reappeared, pushed. The shell splintered all the way around, broke open. The boy's legs were splashed, swatted at with a soggy, awkward wing.
The dragon sat in the bottom half of its egg and watched the crowd, watched him.
"Hello," he said, in Russian, and couldn't say anything else.
"Hello," his dragon said back. "I'm hungry. You said there was this tradition."
J silently handed the boy the harness, stepped back into the crowd. His silent presence jolted him back on script.
"Yes. May I give you a name?"
"Have you found one yet?"
The crowd was whispering. The dragon didn't pay them attention, so the boy didn't either. "A codename, then. We will change it later."
He blinked. Oh. "I... Wing." Someone tittered. He didn't care.
The dragon beat her wings, splattering the crowd with fluid; they were covered in white down, so bright. J was muttering to himself self-satisfiedly about it.
"... Wing. Yes." She bowed her neck to let the boy slip the harness over it, secure it. Her hide was soft and warm. Her eyes were thermal-beam green when she looked up at him. "May I give you a codename?"
He didn't say anything for a while, his hand in the harness. She must be famished. She asked anyway.
"You said Heero Yuy could have changed the world."
"But Odin killed him. So he does not need his name anymore." She pondered this for a few seconds. "I think you should take it, since you're going to change the world too. Only you will not die. May I eat now?"
Most of the crew didn't speak Russian, so they didn't know what was taking so long. J did, though, but the boy didn't think to look at him until after he had nodded his acceptance, because he couldn't speak. J didn't say a thing about it, though, just handed him the bucket with all the meat inside and herded the crowd away.
Heero sat on the floor and fed his dragon in silence, his hand on a blue-and-white, velvety hide, until she fell asleep.